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Swine Flu urgency v. Cancer (good article)


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Ok, so this article isn't actually pitting one against the other, but it does reiterate what I said earlier this year about the hoopla and mass coverage of school closings due to the swine flu.

Where is the outrage for those with cancer and where is the urgency in getting early detectors, more treatment options that would lead to longer survival rates?

This is a good read about what Texas is doing about cancer...



New Texas cancer institute plans high-impact research


August 31, 2009

With students back in school and fall approaching, attention is turning once more to swine flu, which alarmed people worldwide earlier this year when about 98,000 in the Americas contracted it as of July 2009 and about 1,000 died of the virus.

However, about 98,000 in Texas alone are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year, and roughly 37,000 in the state will die, said William Gimson, executive director of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

While swine flu is an urgent threat and has the potential to turn into a pandemic, cancer is an urgent reality, Gimson said, and already is impacting a huge number of Americans and costing state taxpayers about $22 billion annually. However, in the public’s mind, cancer may not receive the attention it deserves, he said.

“I think it’s clear that we really do need to have a focus on both,” he said.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, created by the Texas Legislature in 2007, is an organization uniquely positioned to change the way research and prevention of cancer are done in the state, Gimson said. He was one of several experts present at the “Texas on Top of Cancer Research Forum,” hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Technology Business Council. The event drew health care executives and professionals from across the Fort Worth and Dallas areas to get a better understanding of CPRIT and its projected future as it enters its first phase of operation.

CPRIT now has 14 members — “We plan to remain small,” Gimson said, and that size would be quite different from his last organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he rose to chief operating officer — and has $260 million allocated for research grants for the 2010 fiscal year in addition to up to $22 million in prevention grants for the year.

So far in CPRIT’s short history, many peer review committees have been set up, drawing on cancer talent nationwide, to ensure only the best grants are funded, Gimson said. The organization just recently put out two requests for applications and will accept these smaller, less-complex grants through this fall with the intention of awarding some funding in January and February of 2010, he said. By mid-September applications can be submitted online in a paperless process, and more requests for applications will be posted as the organization gains more momentum, he said.

“Sort of the short story of that is we’re open for business,” he said.

Dr. Alfred Gilman, an emeritus professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a Nobel laureate, is the chief scientific officer of CPRIT and said the review committees will not focus on preliminary data but instead on what is best for Texans.

“Our review committees don’t look like typical NIH review committees,” he said, referring to the National Institutes of Health, which fund a large amount of research in the United States.

Gilman also said he would likely favor open access to data sets and information that result from various CPRIT projects. While no guidelines are in place yet, sharing data and knowledge with other researchers is expanding access to knowledge and could potentially avoid redundancies in research.

After the information session about CPRIT, a panel of specialists discussed various other topics about cancer research and its outcomes in Texas. Thomas Kowalski, president and CEO of the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute in Austin, moderated the panel and said the legislative session that created CPRIT was nearly matched by this year’s session, which focused on funding for CPRIT, encouraging Tier 1 universities and reinvesting in the Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

“This was one of the best sessions for the life sciences that we’ve seen,” he said.

Dr. James Wilson, vice president of the Dallas board of the American Cancer Society North Texas Region and director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, said future research will be able to draw on the impact of genetics technology. It’s much easier and economically feasible to focus on individualized treatments, and being specific also means more meaningful results.

“It’s going to transform our approach, making things much more targeted and specific,” he said.

Dr. Joe Cunningham, managing director of Santé Ventures, a venture capital organization in Austin focusing on early-stage life science and health care companies, said narrowing the focus of clinical trials to populations that would be most impacted would make investing easier. Traditionally, huge populations were needed for research just to get a sufficient number of people who would be affected by a treatment or drug, and this was difficult financially, which is why universities or large organizations had to move research forward.

Dr. John Nemunaitis, executive medical director of the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Centers, said streamlining research would mean patients with advanced cancers and no treatment options will be better served in the future. He spoke of one patient with malignant melanoma who needed brain surgery to remove a tumor before he could receive an experimental treatment. He was only expected to live a few months at the longest, though, and it took effort to find a surgeon who would take a chance.

“I can’t tell him, ‘Well, in 10 to 15 years we might have something for you,’” Nemunaitis said.

If CPRIT is able to live up to its expectations, Kowalski said, in about 10 years cancer researchers in Texas will be able to count the benefits not just in money saved on treatments or jobs created but in lives saved.

“Can you imagine the phenomenal impact we’re going to have?” he said.

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